Budget travel hacks are essential to my trips abroad. I hope they are as helpful to you as they are to me!
When I took my first solo trip a few years ago, I had no idea what was in store for me. I bought a one-way ticket to Paris for an exchange program and after it ended, carried onwards across Morocco, through Europe, and into Turkey.
I was hooked.
But as a 20 something-year-old student with a considerable amount of debt, traveling was a hobby I could barely afford. That is until I began spending time learning ways to travel on a tight budget.
For most, the four biggest expenses for any trip are:
Along these general themes, below are 20 budget travel hacks that will help you save money on your next trip!
Planning for accommodation can be hectic and expensive, especially when a hotel is in question. Whether it be a room’s price or its cancellation fee, booking a hotel is not always easy.
There are a few steps to making hotel bookings more cost-effective.
2. For Danielle from Wanderlust While Working, rebate website Swagbucks is a must for booking accommodation.
One of the biggest ways I save money is to couple the use of rebate websites like Swagbucks with travel websites like Expedia. Swagbucks will give me up to 10% cash back on my purchases through Expedia, plus when I use Expedia consistently, I earn points and get perks through them as well.
The same process can be used for a lot of other booking websites like Priceline and Booking.com as well. I use the points to buy gift cards for travel gear or other fun items.
3. Edyta from Say Yes to Madeira believes that looking for cheap hotels like a local is a great way of saving money.
When looking for accommodation, find out the word locals use for “smaller and cheaper hotels”, then google that word + location you are traveling to. Since the commonly searched phrase “hotel in” will result in more expensive hotels targeting tourists, it is a good tactic to search for accommodation using the local vocabulary.
Most destination have hotels without a big marketing budget, SEO expert, or even a translated site that will make it appear on top of Google’s English searches. The price differences can be significant and it is a great way to save.
Of course, hotels aren’t the only accommodation options. Nowadays, free and cheap stays through online platforms have also become very common. From Couchsurfing to HomeAway, the options are limitless.
One such platform is Airbnb. As one of the most popular alternatives to hotels, the site lets members arrange or offer lodging, primarily homestays, or tourism experiences.
4. When booking an Airbnb for a slow trip in one destination, Vanessa Hunt notes that it is more cost-effective to book stays for one month at a time.
We’ve traveled the world full-time for the last several years, and as a family of six, we are always searching for ways to save money. My best budget travel advice is to use Airbnb one month at a time. Homeowners offer significant discounts to people who book at least one full month. We have been discounted up to 70% the normal cost of the booking. We’ve stayed in the French countryside, in a villa on Lake Como, and a townhouse in London for under $1500/month.
Generally speaking, the biggest transportation cost is the plane ticket. That’s why there are so many tips on flight savings. From buying error flights to using specific apps, the art of locating cheap flights is all in time spent mustering information.
5. While round-trip airfare is seen by many to be cheaper than purchasing two one-way tickets, this is not always the case. Sometimes purchasing tickets separately or adding a stopover may be more cost-effective. Recently, the Lufthansa Airway sued a man who used the ‘hidden city’ tactic to deter the cost of direct flights.
6. Another one of my favorite things to do is volunteer to get bumped off of flights. Airlines sometimes overbook flights because they expect a certain percentage of passengers to not show up. Since this is a mere prediction, there may be cases where more people show up than the number of seats.
In this case, the airline will bump people onto another flight and offer compensation accordingly. Although it is the case that the monetary compensation for volunteers is much less than the compensation airlines need to pay those who are involuntarily denied boarding, there may be others who will volunteer for the bump, leaving the percentage of involuntary refusal quite small. Thus, I always check the volunteer bump box while purchasing a ticket online, or let the counter know at the airport if such a need appears. At the end of the day, $200-400 is quite a lot of money.
7. Jen from Jenona Jet Plane points out that Scott’s Cheap Flights is a really helpful tool when it comes to flight alerts.
My number one budget travel tip is to sign up for flight alerts. Why work hard to look for deals when you can have the deals come to you?
My favorite flight alert program is Scott’s Cheap Flights. They search for price drops and send you an email the moment it pops up so you can take advantage. They notify you of error fares or limited time sales. You can stay on the free list indefinitely and get a portion of the deals or pay $39/year for the premium list to access them all.
8. Retha from Roaming Nanny stands by airfare finder app Hopper:
One of my favorite apps for finding cheap flights is Hopper. Available for both iPhone and Android, Hopper allows users to pick a departure and arrival airport along with dates and lets you know when the best time to buy is based on market trends. The app lets you set up notifications, so when the perfect time to buy comes up it lets you know. Hopper is one of the best travel apps around. I use it for every trip I go on! –
9. Similar to Hopper, Skyscanner is a travel fare engine. It is a site that I use before every trip. Kirsty from World for a Girl agrees.
Before booking a flight, we always scan the price for the whole month. Skyscanner.com is great for this. You can mix and match the cheapest flight times for your outward and inward flights. As long as you have some flexibility, you can often save some money. Normally, we find that flying on a Tuesday and avoiding weekend travel are good bets if you want to save money on plane tickets.
10. Flexibility is key when it comes to reducing the cost of flights. Kelly from Fit Fashion Traveler notes that travel meta-search site Kayak has a great “Explore” option that allows users to search for affordable flights based on predetermined travel dates.
If your travel dates are set, you can save money on flights by being flexible with your destination. Start by using Kayak’s “Explore” tool to determine which regions or cities offer the cheapest flights for your travel dates. For example, Europe should be less expensive in the late winter, Southeast Asia in late summer, and the Caribbean in the fall during hurricane season.
Once you decide on a region you can further increase your savings by flying to the cheapest airport within that region. You may either use that airport to connect to a regional budget-airline flight that takes you to your final destination or use the cheap airport as your final destination. For example, last year, as flights to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, increased in price from $500 USD to $1100 USD, a change in destination to Guanacaste, Costa Rica, resulted in a beautiful vacation with flights that cost only $450 USD! Flexibility in location will help save money and perhaps introduce you to a new country or region too.
11. If you’d like to compare flights with other forms of traveling, Explore with Lora says that RometoRio is a great place to look at a range of options alongside each route’s pricing.
A great way to save money on transportation while traveling is to use Rome2Rio. On the app, you can put in the two locations that you’re traveling between, and the app will give you every route available (i.e. bus, plane, train, boat, walking, etc), along with the price and total travel time of each option. This makes it easy to compare each option and see what the cheapest one is. Rome2Rio is one of the best apps for traveling when you’re trying to save costs on transportation but aren’t sure what the cheapest way to go is.
12. Speaking of apps, ride-share apps specific to a region should be downloaded prior to departure. In Europe, Blablacar was a popular ride-share site that helped me saved a ton. Geena from BartenderAbroad notes a few other well-received apps:
Use apps for transportation like GrabCar, Uber, or Lyft. Most countries have one and they will always be cheaper than rides called from hotel and hostel front desks. If hailing a taxi on the street make sure to use a metered price, you’ll never get a better deal by paying a set price even if you haggle. Once you are on the road make sure to watch the meter to make sure it is working properly as well.
A Good Rewards Card
13. Lastly, if you are a frequent traveler, always look for a reputable travel reward credit card. Travel hacker Danielle says:
My biggest money-saver while traveling has absolutely been learning about the art of using miles and points to redeem free flights, hotels, and more. I started travel hacking about a year ago, and since then, I have redeemed over $5,000 in free travel. If you’re interested in learning how to earn your way to a free trip, you don’t need to do much research. All you really need is a good travel reward credit card.
Every month, I pay my balance off in full and earn anywhere from 3-10 airline miles/points per dollar spent. Every few months or so, I’ll apply for a new card to earn a major mileage bonus that is typically worth over $1,000. By doing a bit of research to learn which card to use for which purchase and using my card like I would use cash, I get to travel for free, and you can too!
All you’ll need to get started is discipline (you HAVE to pay your balance every month or this will never work) and the initiative to research your credit score and the right cards for you. Once you have your card, if you can meet the minimum spending requirement, you can qualify for signing bonuses worth anywhere from $1,000-$5,000 of free travel. It’s an intimidating hobby to get into at first, but the rewards are worth the work you put into it
During the Trip
Food & Drinks
14. In addition to transportation and lodging, eating out can also be a costly venture. Those who don’t want to indulge in the expenses of a fancy restaurant offer a few alternatives:
Catherine from To & Fro Fam mentions that she preps some snacks at her Airbnb and restricts restaurant meal to once a day:
I travel often with my family, which means I have to save money somewhere—and the most reliable way I do that is by skipping restaurants! Instead of eating out all the time, we go to a restaurant only once per day. We fill up on breakfast at our hotel or bring staples from home or an AirBnB. Thanks to all the prep I do, I become a magical source of every snack my family could ever want. From cutting apples and making PB&Js to bagging crackers, this budget travel tip saves me hundreds of dollars per trip, allowing us to focus on the travel destination—not the inside of a restaurant.
Geena says to avoid tourist traps and eat like a local:
EAT STREET FOOD. Some of the best foods come out of street vendors so forget what you have been told about them before now. It’s a cheap way to try out all the local cuisine. Try and eat at restaurants away from the main tourist hubs they tend to be cheaper and have more authentic dishes.
Of course, always know what you are in for! Although I adore street food, I’ve learned that hygiene is more important. After suffering an upset stomach on my return flight from a street taco in Mexico and experiencing Delhi belly during my week-long trip through the Himalayas, I’ve learned to always ask locals for recommendations, and brave for any possible outcome.
Not going to lie, most of the time it’s completely worth it!
15. In Europe, another way to save a few dollars while enjoying some local cuisines is to dine at university cafeterias. While studying abroad in Paris, I noted that the city center had multiple canteens for students like myself. The meals including the main course, salad, and dessert cost no more than 8 euros (sometimes as low as 5), and are usually quite delicious!
Budget Your Travels
16. From rides to food, expenses can be kept on track with a simple spreadsheet. I agree completely with Darja from Deegees when she notes the importance of keeping yourself in check-especially when you have a tight budget.
Some things are better managed when measured. Your travel budget is one of them. If you want to stay on top of your finances while exploring the world, make sure you understand where your money is going.
One of the simplest yet effective approaches is keeping track of all your expenses while on a journey. You don’t need any fancy apps nor complicated calculations. Create a basic travel budget Google Spreadsheet (so that you can access online on any device) and note down everything you’ve spent your money on. For more insights, set up a budget goal and assign categories to your expenses (for example, “accommodation”, “transport”, “food” etc.). This way you will stay in control of your travel budget and will know what to do adjust to get back on track, if necessary.
Save on Entertainment
17. Or from My Path the the World suggests to always research free entrance days or discounted ticket policies before visiting an attraction.
Many European cities offer free entrance to some of the attractions on certain days of the week. It varies from weekends to a specific day in the middle of the week to certain hours every day and can save you a lot of money. To check which attractions (museums, palaces, etc.) you can visit for free and on which days, consult the city’s official tourism website.
18. Jessy from Planet Pilgrims mentions that ride-sharing with locals is her go-to tactic to reduce cost and that her Social Media presence also helps with lodging arrangements.
We live in South Africa and there are no low-cost carriers in this part of the world so we have to find different ways to safe money. Ours has been: taking road trips and asking another mom + child to join to share the cost, offering to write about the accommodation and share on social media in return for a free night, camping instead of lodging, bringing a cooler box packed with food instead of eating en route.
All these tips make travel much more affordable and much more fun because you share it with other people.
19. For the braver soul, hitchhiking is a great way of reducing travel costs by a great chunk. Most times it is completely free, sometimes you might be expected to pay a small compensation. It depends on where you are hitchhiking and how far. It does not only save you tons of transportation money, but it is also a great way to get in touch with locals. Maria shares her thoughts on this:
Before going out on a hitchhiking adventure, make sure it fits for you. Are you a person who is okay without having everything planned and not knowing exactly where you will end up? When you hitchhike you can never be sure when you will reach your destination. You must also be prepared to take a bus or train should there be no other option. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it. If you are traveling longer distances I would recommend not booking accommodation ahead of time, as you never know when you will get there, or if you might need to spend a night somewhere else on the way.
So now you have decided that hitchhiking is perfect for you, then you will want to make some destination specific research. You will want to find out if hitchhiking is safe at your destination, you will also find out if locals speak English. If not, you might want to bring a note with translated information on where you are going. You should also find out if it is expected by you to pay anything. This information can be found easily online, or you might want to consult locals. You can ask the staff at your accommodation or anyone local you have gotten to know.
If you have the answers to all of this it is time to head out for the adventure of a lifetime. Hitchhiking is amazing. It is free, and you will meet amazing people. I definitely recommend it to anyone.
Take the Road Less Traveled
20. Finally, don’t always follow the crowd! Explore some off-the-beaten-path destinations instead of the most popular tourist zones. Choose a country that’s less traveled or visit a lesser known site within a popular country. While in Mexico, I visited Chichen Itza with a friend. After squeezing in the entrance with hundreds of other sweaty tourists, we quickly realized that the architectural design was very similar to Uxmal, which was more of a local gem without the chaos of a hot tourist destination.
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